As you recall from my last post, in 1930, Inchelium and all towns north of Coulee Dam had to be moved to higher ground. Lake Roosevelt, the backwaters from Grand Coulee Dam to Kettle Falls, would rapidly flood several towns along the Columbia River. Men cut trees, moved buildings, and grieved a life soon to disappear. The above photo is of the top of Kettle falls several years after the dam was erected and was taken by my grandmother who lived a couple miles south of the falls, which was the historical fishing site of the Arrow Lakes people.
Carl Putnam, a resident of Old and New Inchelium since 1922, shared his childhood memories. As carl, his wife Florence, and I sat at their kitchen table, he slid a poster-sized photo of the old town across the table that was taken in 1930. He rubbed his hands together as he eased back in his chair. Pointing at the picture, he began.
“The Catholic church was the only church in town at the time,” Putnam said. The large, white structure sat on top of a hill to the northwest section of town. Mr. Putnam leaned forward and ran a bony finger straight down the photo, from the church to Inman’s Flourmill. “This small town business bought wheat and ground it into flour, then marketed it as Inman’s best. This was the industry of the town,” maintained Putnam as he chuckled. “Really bootlegging was the number one industry of Old Inchelium. Stills were all over and pigs ran around drunk.”
Heading south down Main Street, on flat, dusty ground, lined a hotel, post office, dance hall, Carter’s Mercantile, tavern, and barbershop. A restaurant called The Pine Cone and a Shell Gas station stood across the street.
I leaned closer to the photo in front of me and saw ska kwecmelt (Arrow Lakes tongue,) or children, on the road. I imagined them splashing the town with their laughter and games. Because the land was hot and dusty in the summer months, little ones could be found cooling off by the riverbank. They also hung out in the middle of Main Street where a four-foot handpump provided the town’s water supply.
Toward the end of town stood a building that housed a two-room schoolhouse shared with the government agency. The classroom held about twenty-five students in each room. Because people were spread out over a thirty-mile region, seven schools scattered the surrounding area. Today there are two: one preschool and one K-12 campus.
Not only did Carl Putnam attend the old school, so did many others. Two sskeel-who (Arrow Lakes tongue), or elders, shared their stories with me. Mrs. Irene Kohle taught the lower grades in the early 1930s, and Mrs. Ester Mason Coe attended class as a child.
Mrs. Kohler remembers the warm September ride from Addy, WA about fifty miles east of Inchelium, with the mailman. When she arrived for her first day of work, women scurried around, scrubbing the two classrooms in preparation for the first day of school. “I watched the women scrub, knowing how much they valued the school,” she said.
Ester Mason Coe, a ninety-two-year-old member of the Arrow Lakes band remembered sitting in the classroom, rocking the teacher’s baby in a carriage. “I rocked and rocked all day long with my foot while Mrs. Alice Shaffer taught the lesson.”
Ester Mason Coe has since passed on, but Mrs. Kohler and Carl Putnam still putter around, hovering on and above 100 years old.
To be continued…